Teaching Illiteracy

Nick Mansfield


In mainstream humanities and social sciences, a traditional humanism has given way to an ethos of cultural difference. One form of cosmopolitanism triumphs over another as the goal of pedagogy. Both these cosmopolitanisms keep alive a model of culture as the thing that texts and practices instantiate, and what explains and locates them. The role of education becomes either knowledge of or at least sensitivity to the invisible parent formation out of which cultural practices arise. Yet a survey we conducted of Hong Kong–based students studying cultural studies in Australia found that they did not experience texts in relation to this larger parent formation, and seemed uninterested in reading culture this way. Their own tastes shifted from one form and context to another rapidly, without interest in texts' origins or provenance. Similarly, teachers of cultural studies wrestled with their own ignorance of the background and context of the texts they taught or that students suggested as examples. Both teachers and students taught and discussed cultural languages in which they were largely illiterate. These issues are discussed through a reading of Jacques Derrida's autobiographical work on language, pedagogy and colonialism Monolingualism of the Other. The contrast Derrida makes between 'source languages' and what he calls 'langues d'arrivee' (target languages or languages of arrival, happenstance or the event) allows for a speculative reconsideration of texts  not as exemplary of culture but as an engagement with language traces whose historical/political significance comes from the event of their instantiation not the legacy of their origin.


Cultural Studies; Media studies; cross-cultural pedagogy; Derrida

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/csr.v17i2.2002